Seasons of Internships

I’ve feared the moment that my summers would be turned over to internships for a long time. I can’t remember for how long I’ve known internships are important – probably for as long as I’ve known about applying for college. My relationship with the idea of internships has gone through stages, with me sliding from thinking that they are silly resume builders to valuable and necessary work experience almost every day. I recently decided that I wanted to pursue some sort of consulting internship, and then felt a drop in my stomach similar to when I decided to apply for Wesleyan. But while there is a large and personalized application process still ahead of me, I don’t want to feel as scared as I did then. With this in mind, I sat down with Asie Makarova ’17 and Taylor Chin ’18 to discuss two of the main myths about internships and what truths, based on their experience, lie beneath.

Both Asie and Taylor had similar beginnings to their internship journey. “I started pretty early applying to things Junior fall,” Asie remembered. She found her connection through LinkedIn, by reaching out to a friend’s dad who then put her in contact with FTI Consulting. Taylor also came across his internship on LinkedIn when he noticed that an old friend from high school had connections at an energy intelligence software company called EnerNOC. From there, both Taylor and Asie got offered interviews at their respective companies.

Myth: You need to have a lot of specific knowledge going in. “But I didn’t know anything about energy beforehand,” Asie said with a smile. “I was in the interview they were like, ‘Do you like energy?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah.’ And then I got there on the first day and had to have an energy 101.” Taylor also didn’t know anything about energy when he applied. “In my interview my boss asked me the difference between a kilowatt and a kilowatt hour, which is probably the most basic thing you could ask, and I had no idea.”

Both Taylor and Asie’s experiences confirm that we can take this myth off the table. At least for consulting, companies are very willing to teach new interns the knowledge necessary for them to tackle problems as long as they have the other less-teachable skills that they are looking for. These skills include technical knowledge, communication, analysis, etc. – all abilities that you would pick up in data analysis courses

Truth: You have skills that you probably don’t realize you have. “I think that’s what’s really great about the QAC,” said Taylor. “You can cultivate a lot of technical and analytical skills in the classroom. They’re doing all sorts of stuff here that you can really play up on your resume and in interviews. I knew nothing about energy, but I feel like the technical skills I knew from the QAC allowed me to leverage that.” Asie seconded this, saying that, “[My knowledge from the QAC] definitely set me apart in training.” And having the understanding necessary for quickly picking up new things also meant that she didn’t need any hand holding as she adjusted. These are the qualities that are likely to impress in an internship setting, and their importance shows that skills definitely make up for any gaps in knowledge.

Myth: The only way to find opportunities is through the University. What’s really interesting about Asie and Taylor’s experiences are their similar beginnings on LinkedIn, instead of Wesleyan’s career website Handshake. While Handshake is a good resource, it is important to remember that the career center isn’t the only source of possible opportunities. “I think for people who are in their sophomore year LinkedIn is even more crucial,” Taylor added. “Because not many opportunities are specifically advertised as for sophomores. You really need to network your way in, leverage anything you can.” And LinkedIn is certainly not a magical internship and job acquirer – “it wasn’t that LinkedIn got the internship for me,” Asie noted, “it was that I noticed something on LinkedIn – but it is more than a place for people who already have established careers.

Truth: The most important tool for finding opportunities is your voice. Especially important is not being afraid to ask others for advice. Asie suggests “talking to seniors or juniors who have gone through a lot of the same processes already, because you get different ideas of what people have done and how they have gotten there.”

“I would echo that,” Taylor jumped in. “Talk to anyone and everyone. People are willing to help and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for something. The worst thing that can happen is they say no.”

“People like talking about themselves and their experiences,” Asie pointed out with a smile. And it’s true – prompting someone to talk about their own life is possibly one of the easiest ways to start a conversation, and it almost guarantees learning some new information. The bottom line is that it’s important to be tenacious and keep going, because it is inevitable that you will get some rejection along the way, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t going to have a good experience at wherever you land. Like college, if you’re putting yourself out there and applying to the right places, there is going to be someone who wants you. Unlike college, the application process isn’t anywhere near as daunting, and shouldn’t be thought of as such.